SAD SACK, THE (director: George Marshall; screenwriters: Edmund Beloin/Nate Monaster/based on the comic-strip character Sad Sack by George Baker; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Walter Scharf; cast: Jerry Lewis (Private Meredith Bixby), David Wayne (Corporal Larry Dolan), Phyllis Kirk (Major Shelton), Joe Mantell (Private Stan Wenaslawsky), Peter Lorre (Abdul), Gene Evans (Sergeant Major Elmer Pulley), George Dolenz (Ali Mustapha), Liliane Montevecchi (Zita), Michael Ansara (Moki), Shepperd Strudwick(Major General Vanderlip); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Hal B. Wallis/Paul Nathan; Paramount; 1957)
“Perhaps proving Lewis could carry a picture on his own.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
George Marshall (“Destry Rides Again”/”The Blue Dahlia”/”Murder, He Says”), lacking the skill needed to execute cartoon gags, directs Jerry Lewis in his second solo starring film (shot in B/W) after breaking with Dean Martin in 1956, when their film Hollywood or Bust was released. The two films without Dino were successful at the box office, perhaps proving Lewis could carry a picture on his own. But critically, the pic was lacking in many things, such as good sight gags, to be considered an artistic success. It’s a loose adaptation of George Baker’s classic comic-strip of a GI misfit The Sad Sack, originating in 1941 and continuing on to the post-war period. The Sad Sack character is played here by Lewis in his usual spastic way of eliciting physical comedy.
Writers Edmund Beloin and Nate Monaster have screw-up recruit Meredith Bixby (Jerry Lewis)about to be kicked out of the army, but he’s saved by the WAC psychologist, the attractive Major Shelton (Phyllis Kirk), who gets permission from Major General Vanderlip (Shepperd Strudwick) to use a new experimental program to see if with proper guidance a misfit (or, if you would, a sad sack) could be changed into a good soldier–especially since this one has a photographic memory.Corporal Larry Dolan (David Wayne) is assigned to be Bixby’s mentor, and Dolan’s pal Private Stan Wenaslawsky (Joe Mantell) helps.
At Camp Calhoun, Bixby proves to be a walking disaster for the mentors and they think they would be better off killing him–which they resist doing. Meanwhile Shelton falls for ladies man Dolan and begins a most unconvincing romance (Wayne is no Martin). After a few embarrassing incidents caused by Bixby, such as driving the outfit’s Jeep by mistake to the WAC’s barracks late at night and then sleeping with his weary mentor passengers at the WAC’s barracks after a barroom brawl in town Bixby caused with local thugs over a girl. Following those incidents, Bixby is assigned along with Larry and Stan and their infantry unit to go to Morocco on a secret mission to stop supplies from being stolen at the Air Force base.
When Bixby thinks that visiting hottie Mexican nightclub singer at the Pink Camel, Zita (Liliane Montevecchi), spurned him, he goes AWOL and tries to join the French Foreign Legion. Instead he’s kidnapped by rogue Arabs, who are trying to put together a big cannon, a new American weapon, but can’t without the help of the mechanically gifted Bixby who memorized the instruction manual on how to put the weapon together. The naive bumbler Bixby assembles the weapon, and now the Arabs plan to kill him. But before Bixby’s killed, Zita, Dolan and Stan come to rescue him in the desert. One of the killer Arabs is Peter Lorre, who is a riot in his small role.
I believe the feeble slapstick comedy and overly familiar jokes are mostly unfunny to anyone but Jerry’s large fanbase. Also, the service comedy casts the Arabs in insulting stereotype roles as enemies of America, where the audience is asked to laugh at them as dolts who are even more mentally challenged than the character Lewis plays.
REVIEWED ON 7/17/2011 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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